For the first time in 12 years, ESPN aired the MLB Draft and it was a raving success.
The last month hasn’t been the most exciting when it comes to sports, especially concerning MLB and its ugly negotiations with its player’s union. But on Wednesday evening, starting at 7:00 p.m. ET, the opening round of the 2020 MLB Draft provided a much-needed spark, giving ESPN its largest weekday audience in three weeks, since its rebroadcast of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals back on May 20.
The first round of this year’s MLB draft averaged 611,000 viewers combined on ESPN and MLB Network on Wednesday night, with 432,000 coming via ESPN and 179,000 through MLB Network.
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Overall, in terms of total average viewership for an MLB Draft, the event saw an increase of 101% since 2019 and a jump of 91% since 2018. Although MLB Network probably wishes it would’ve aired the draft by itself, given ESPN siphoned away the majority of its viewers. The 179K average for MLB Network this year was a 41% drop compared to 2019.
ESPN’s success with the first round of the baseball draft also outperformed Tuesday night’s return of Top Rank Boxing, which averaged 397,000 viewers, as well as the airing of soccer’s German Cup on Tuesday and Wednesday (combined to average 380,000 viewers).
MLB’s 2020 draft is just the latest draft to experience an influx in viewership since the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in April, the 2020 NFL Draft averaged a whopping 15.6 million viewers on its first night, followed by the WNBA who set a league record for its draft, averaging 387,000 — a 123% jump since 2019.
What they call “viewer desperation” is providing sports’ largest TV network with even more of an audience. Seemingly everything ESPN puts out these days generates record-breaking views, best of which was its 10-part docuseries The Last Dance. The network’s decision to move up the release of its Michael Jordan documentary — which first aired on April 19 — rewarded them with a staggering 6.1 million viewership average — the largest average for an original program at ESPN, as well as the most-viewed telecast since the college football national championship back in January.
MLB’s remote draft on Wednesday and Thursday certainly didn’t lack in drama, despite being slashed from 40 to five rounds and featuring several other alterations. The class was highlighted by Arizona State’s first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who many projected to go first in the draft… which he did, taken no. 1 overall by the Detroit Tigers.
However, guys like shortstop Austin Martin (fifth to the Toronto Blue Jays) and lefty pitcher Nick Bitsko (24th to the Tampa Bay Rays) went at unexpected places in the draft, as several teams used different strategies during the early portion of the first round. Emerson Hancock, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Georgia and a player many believed to go within the top-three leading up to draft day, ending up falling to sixth to the Seattle Mariners.
Overall, it was a great two days for MLB and ESPN. In fact, as I write this post it has been reported by ESPN that MLB team owners are expected to send a new proposal to the Players Union on Friday, featuring a 70-75 game season. Maybe a successful draft will spark an agreement soon so baseball can return.